I remember exactly where I was sitting the first time I heard what Larry Barron sounded like on the radio.
If the building was still standing now, more than 33 years later, I could take you through the door, around the corner and just down the hall and point to the exact spot where I was when the boom box played his “DJ tape.”
It was a pivotal, indelible moment.
I was 15 and after doing guest shows on WBFH-FM, the community radio station staffed largely by students, since I was 11, I was preparing to join the station’s regular staff. I had heard the name Larry Barron before, as we all had then. He was the station’s Operations Manager the year before I started and when previous OMs still got talked about, it meant they truly led by example.
Larry had sent home a tape of him at a new station called “Z89” in Syracuse. I would come to learn years later that he wasn’t just a DJ there – he led the effort to transform the student-run station to the FM band. When I heard the tape, it flipped a switch. That’s what I wanted to sound like. That’s what I needed to be like on the air – professional, natural, high-energy, entertaining.
The phone callers knew his name. It was clear they loved the station. It wasn’t just about talking into a microphone, it was about communicating with people. The bar was set. In an instant, Syracuse became a college of interest and Z89 (WJPZ-FM) was on my radar.
Three years later, when I joined the staff of WJPZ after serving as OM at WBFH, I heard more about Larry Barron. He was a legend at the two radio stations where my voice had been heard. Because he was the first of what would become 14 WBFH staffers to go on to study communications at Syracuse, I was expected by the older staff members at Z89 to live up to Larry’s standard, as did those in that chain who came before me.
Through years of attending the same events, I got to know Larry, starting when he started his post-radio career in television at CNN. I looked up to him like I would a much-older cousin. We didn’t have a day-to-day friendship, but I followed his career closely and marveled at his success, knowing he always had an interest in what I was doing.
Just the other day, I got the incredibly sad word that Larry died suddenly at his home in Los Angeles. This is news in the media business, as Larry became a legend everywhere he went, creating television that helped shape the industry. In a business with too few “good guys,” it’s obviously that those of us from WBFH and WJPZ are far from alone in realizing that he truly was one worth emulating.
Earlier this year, Larry and I spotted one another as squares in a private Zoom chat for alumni from Syracuse’s Newhouse School with fellow alums Mike Tirico and Ian Eagle. He sent me a note saying we should catch up soon. We should have, but we didn’t. I’ll always regret it.
While Larry provided a memorable moment in my career so many years ago, he’s now providing another. When someone important in my life suggests a time to catch up, I’ll get it scheduled right away, and won’t let it linger. I’m calling it “The Larry Barron Rule” and it’s now in effect. I invite you to join me in adopting it.
The legacy Larry created of a Michigan-to-Syracuse pipeline will be celebrated and appreciated. The photo accompanying this text is from moments after Larry was inducted into the WJPZ Hall of Fame in 2013 (he’s officially the Class of 2012 and only because of his work schedule were we not inducted together), as we took a photo in homage to our shared professional birthplace at WBFH and its onetime area code. That’s him on the far right. In the photo are three WJPZ past General Managers and two WJPZ Hall of Famers (and counting), all of whom who started as kids at WBFH. Larry blazed the trail for us and helped make fulfilling careers possible. His memory will always endure.